Waikato are first-time champions of the Jock Hobbs Memorial national Under 19 tournament in Taupo.
After the disappointment of losing the 2015 Premiership final to Canterbury in a high octane affair, Waikato defeated Auckland A 25-22 to win the Graham Mourie Cup. Though Auckland A scored three tries to one, Waikato deserved the victory for a strong first spell, the platform laid by the boot of first five Matt Lansdown, who will push hard for the starting NZ Under 20 No 10 berth in 2017, and some effective forward play. The likes of hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho, lock Sam Caird, openside flanker Du Plessis Kirifi and No 8 Luke Jacobson were all prominent either in the lineout or in the collisions.
The latter, also the skipper, as he was in 2015, finished a superb early team try by Waikato, and his allround efforts over the three days of the tournament saw the New Zealand Under 20 loose forward pick up the DJ Graham award as the MVP. Unsurprisingly, all three winners since 2014 have been loose forwards.
Vice-captain Lansdown, who has already played for the senior Waikato team, was most influential in the decider, dictating play and slotting seven from eight, including six penalty goals, from the tee.
Auckland took a while to get into their work, and their first stanza ill-discipline was costly, but they scored two fine tries from lineout drives, via front-rowers Jerry Samania and Charles Napa'a. Wiseguy Faiane should have started at No 10, his second spell grubber setting up his Auckland Grammar First XV teammate Loketi Manu for Auckland's second five-pointer.
Auckland were pushing hard by fulltime, but were just short of their maiden title.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie, on hand along with several other Mitre 10 Cup and Super Rugby coaches, must have been pleased seeing two of his franchise provinces win silverware.
Counties Manukau, as they did in 2015, won the second tier Michael Jones Trophy, 35-20 over Bay of Plenty with plenty to spare. Next year they will seek to qualify in the top two of the Chiefs region so they can play for the Graham Mourie Cup. Braces to No 8 Viliami Taulani, who has already played for the Steelers, and centre Salimoni Tukania, were key, while Steelers squad member, first five Orbyn Leger, added six goals.
Taulani scored one try from an 85m burst, looking for all the world like Akira Ioane with his pace and power.
Wellington secured third position in the Premiership with a 31-24 victory over 2015 champions Canterbury. So the big four all made the top four.
New Zealand Rugby general manager rugby Neil Sorensen congratulated the winners.
"What a fantastic way to top a week of outstanding rugby. Congratulations to Waikato and Counties Manukau for their success, and congratulations to all the teams that competed. They put on some highly entertaining footy," said Sorensen.
"This tournament is an important platform to showcase young talent emerging from the provinces, who for the third year converged on Taupo. We are incredibly grateful for the amazing support this event gets every year from the Taupo district."
New Zealand Rugby would also have been, quietly, much happier with the display of the two Auckland teams, who placed second and seventh, a big improvement on the 2015 placings of seventh and last (16th).
Jock Hobbs Memorial national Under 19 tournament
(Owen Delany Park, Taupo)
Graham Mourie Cup final (1-2): Waikato 25 (Luke Jacobson try; Matt Lansdown con, 6 pen) Auckland A 22 (Jerry Samania, Loketi Manu, Charles Napa'a tries; Oliver Polson con, Wiseguy Faiane con, pen) HT: 19-7
3-4: Wellington 31 Canterbury 24
5-6: Otago 13 Manawatu 13 (Otago take fifth, having scored two tries to one)
7-8: Auckland B 29 Taranaki 27
Michael Jones Trophy final (9-10): Counties Manukau 35 (Viliami Taulani 2, Salimoni Tukania 2 tries; Orbyn Leger 3 con, 3 pen) Bay of Plenty 20 (Sami Veikoso, Paea Levaka tries; Reece MacDonald 2 con, 2 pen) HT: 12-7
11-12: Tasman 32 Hawke's Bay 20
13-14: North Harbour 27 Northland 0
15-16: Heartland 32 Southland 5